Appointment With Destiny Chapter 19
Word of the collapse reached Aeris and Sephiroth later that evening. They stood in front of the television watching as news cameras zoomed in close for live shots of the carnage and destruction.
"Repeating our earlier broadcast," said the announcer, "The steel plate over Sector 7 has collapsed killing hundreds, maybe thousands of people underneath. There's no word yet on how many survivors there are, but at this point the only survivors seem to be those who were just at the outskirt of the Sector 7 plate. They were able to flee for their lives. This is horrible, just horrible. Men, women, and children all dead."
"Wait . . . I'm receiving reports now . . . yes receiving reports now that this devastation was caused by the terrorist group known as AVALANCHE. They were spotted running from the area by a Shinra helicopter crew inspecting the support towers. It seems AVALANCHE phoned in a telephone threat to President Shinra thirty minutes before the support tower in Sector Seven was blown up. It was the sixteenth call in a month made by the same organization with the same threat. As he's done in the past, President Shinra sent out crews to inspect the towers for any signs of sabotage. There was no reason to think the terrorists would actually go through with this bombing. Wait a minute . . . the President is about to speak."
President Shinra appeared on the screen. His face looked haggard.
"People of the world," he said in a voice close to breaking. "This is a sad time for all of us. The cowardly terrorist group known as AVALANCHE has struck a blow that will go down in history as the most heinous of all crimes. They've killed more than eight thousand people in Sector 7 in an attempt to take control of your Planet. Their demands are that I retire immediately and allow Cloud Strife and his band of hooligans free rein over this Planets supply of Mako."
"Once in power, they plan to raise the cost of electricity and drain the populace dry. They've been systematically destroying power generators as fast as we can replace them. Now they've gone and destroyed and entire sector to show me how serious they are. You must join me in an attempt to stop these terrible people from taking control. If they'd destroy an entire community with such low regard for human life, where will it end? Maybe the next time, it will be your sector, your home and your children. Who will be the next to die?"
"Don't listen to their lies of trying to help the Planet. They will destroy all of us to get what they want."
A picture of Barret, Tifa and Cloud replaced his face.
"This is what they look like," said the President's voice. "If you see them, call us immediately. They must be stopped. They may have fled the city by now. In that case, they could be hiding in one of the villages. Shinra is offering a hefty reward for the capture of these fugitives, dead or alive. Good night and pray for those souls who lost their lives to this madness."
The newscaster came back on and repeated the news they'd heard before. Sephiroth turned off the television.
"Now do you see how dangerous AVALANCHE is?" he asked.
Aeris looked into his angry eyes and thought back to the people she'd met in the basement of Tifa's bar.
"I can't believe they'd do such a thing," she said hesitantly. "How could they kill all those people?"
"They're mad." Sephiroth clenched his fists. "This latest adventure of theirs will probably cut into our time together.
As if on cue the phone rang. Sephiroth picked it up. He listened to a voice on the other end.
"Send the helicopter." He hung up. "What did I tell you?"
"What will happen now?" asked Aeris. "Are you going to look for them?"
"I'm going to hunt them down like the dogs they are and get rid of them once and for all," said Sephiroth grimly. "They don't deserve to live after this."
"But what if you're wrong?" asked Aeris. "What if someone else is responsible?"
He looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Bad people are everywhere," she said. "What if they were framed?"
The way he was looking at her was unnerving. "Who would want to frame AVALANCHE?"
Aeris backed off. Sephiroth had his own opinion of Cloud's group. To say anymore would be telling him, her contact with AVALANCHE went well beyond her encounter with Jessie. She dropped her eyes.
"I don't know," she said softly. "Just a thought."
She looked up to find him still watching her.
"I guess I'd better get used to not having much time with you."
His expression changed. "I'm sorry."
She went to him and put her arms around his body.
"It's not your fault."
He raised her chin and smiled at her.
"I promise to take off more time for you as soon as this is over," he said. "We can take over where we left off."
"All right." She smiled up at him.
A helicopter droned in the distance.
Aeris frowned. "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that helicopter was waiting nearby just to pick you up."
"Don't be silly." Sephiroth gave her a gentle push toward the bedroom. "Grab what you need fast. We're leaving immediately.
Aeris smiled until he was out of sight, but in her bedroom, she frowned again. Why would Cloud and his friends blow up a support tower, killing all of their friends and neighbors? It didn't make sense, yet a helicopter crew saw them running from the area. Was Cloud's noble act just that, to make her trust him? Her mind was troubled as she picked up a suitcase.
* * * * *
Sephiroth was gone for three weeks. He called whenever he could. Aeris busied herself with putting the finishing touches on the rest of the apartment. The only room she didn't know what to do with was the nursery. Somehow passing that bare room everyday brought back the pressure she'd felt when she found out she had no choice about her marriage. She made a minor effort to fix it up by painting the walls yellow and putting in colorful curtains, but beyond adding a crib and a dressing table, she let it stay as it was. Sephiroth hadn't mentioned a baby, but the pressure didn't come from him. Scarlet was the source of her problems.
By mutual agreement they never talked about the trip to Sector 7, but her problems were far from over. Much to Aeris' annoyance, Scarlet's visits were increasing. She'd dropped by the apartment at least five times since Sephiroth's latest tour of duty. Somehow she always managed to twist the conversation around to the subjects of babies. Aeris was nearing the end of her patience with the overdressed blonde. Tired from a morning of rearranging the furniture, She had just settled down with a book and a cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. Aeris sighed in frustration. She put her cup on a saucer and lay her book aside.
"Why now?" She grumbled. "This is the first break I've had all day!"
She opened the door. It was Scarlet.
"Aeris!" As usual she walked in without a word of encouragement. She went to the sofa and spotted the coffee cup immediately. "Is there any coffee left?"
Aeris waved a hand toward the kitchen. Scarlet went off and made a cup for herself. Aeris sat down trying to decide whether she wanted to laugh or cry. She forced a smile on her face when the blonde returned and seated herself on the opposite end of the sofa.
"I just stopped by to see if you're going shopping today," said Scarlet brightly. "You and I could go together."
"Thank you but no," said Aeris. "I'm through with shopping for a while. I've got everything the way I want it."
Scarlet looked puzzled. "Everything?"
"Everything." Here it comes, thought Aeris.
"What about the nursery?"
"What about it?" asked Aeris.
"You haven't finished it yet." Scarlet took a sip of her coffee and nodded in satisfaction. "You make the best coffee on the Planet Aeris."
Scarlet winked at her. "Don't you want to get the nursery ready for your baby?"
"What's the rush?" asked Aeris, biting back what she really wanted say. "I don't need it."
"No?" Scarlet cast a furtive at Aeris' stomach. "Well . . . why wait to the last minute?"
"How are things between you and Rufus?" asked Aeris changing the subject.
Scarlet changed gears smoothly. "I'm still working on him. He'll weaken sooner or later."
"Why don't you go after someone else?" asked Aeris.
"Like who?" Scarlet thought about Hojo and shivered mentally.
"Oh I don't know." Aeris fished around for a name. "Reeve seems like a pretty nice guy."
Scarlet snorted. "Never liked bearded men."
"Does that mean Heidegger is out?"
Scarlet laughed. "You think I'd make a good mother-in-law?"
What did I go and say that for? Aeris wanted to kick herself. Scarlet set her mind at ease.
"I prefer my men with a little less meat on their bones."
Aeris fought to keep her face straight. "Like . . . Hojo?"
Scarlet's eyes turned venomous. "What?"
"I'm sorry." Aeris changed her expression to remorse. "I didn't mean any harm. Maybe not Hojo, but someone with the same build? Kind of slender but not too thin?"
A direct hit, thought Aeris. She doesn't like Hojo.
Scarlet shook her head. "In Hojo's case, I like my men with a little more meat and better hair."
They broke into a fit of laughter that lasted for some time.
"Seriously Aeris," said Scarlet wiping the tears from her eyes, "I'll help you finish the nursery if you like."
"I'm going to leave it as it is," said Aeris with a note of finality in her voice. "Sephiroth is never home long enough for me to ever worry about using it anyway, so why bother?"
Scarlet expression changed briefly, then she shrugged. "Okay. Will you help me shop then?"
"What are you looking for?" asked Aeris.
"A dress that will make a certain young Shira's head spin," said Scarlet slyly. "I want him to do a double take, a triple take, then look again."
There's nothing you can wear on this Planet that will do that, thought Aeris, but she agreed to go shopping. Three hours later, Scarlet had her dress. Aeris went home exhausted and put her feet up on the sofa to rest. The phone rang.
If that's Scarlet again, I'm going to tell her off, thought Aeris. It wasn't Scarlet. It was Sephiroth, phoning to say he was on his way home.
There was no sign of AVALANCHE anywhere. President Shinra took the troops out of emergency status. Sephiroth had been told he could take Aeris back to Mideel and resume his vacation. The President himself insisted on adding four extra weeks to the four he'd originally applied for.
Aeris was delighted. When she wasn't learning to fight. She and Sephiroth simply enjoyed basking in their love for each other. Shinra never called Sephiroth once. When they went back to Midgar at last, every news report concerning the collapse of Sector 7 speculated on the possibility that AVALANCHE hadn't escaped their explosion after all.
Sephiroth was satisfied with that conclusion, but Aeris' heart was filled with grief. She still didn't think it was possible for the people she'd met to be involved in the destruction of the pillar. She'd seen her share of madmen ranting and raving about their cause, on television at home. Somehow AVALANCHE didn't fit the bill.
The Shinra Corporation decided not to rebuild Sector 7. The massive steel plate made the perfect crypt. The bodies beneath were sealed off from scavengers and predators alike. The threat of disease and the odor of mass decomposition was minimal once partially crushed corpses were removed from the outer edges. It was much cheaper to erect a marker in memory of the dead, than it was to cut the plate to retrieve them.
That raised a cry from those who had lost friends and relatives in the disaster. The complaints to stopped when Shinra offered to retrieve any body on request . . . if the party making the request paid a tidy sum up front for the cost of equipment and manpower needed to locate, identify and retrieve the dead. There was an additional charge if retrieving a whole body was impossible. With nothing new to report, newscasters turned to other subjects.
Three weeks after that, Aeris leaned over a table to dust. The world suddenly tilted to the left. She straightened up quickly, closing her eyes.
"What's wrong with me?"
She opened her eyes. Nothing. She felt fine. Aeris shrugged and returned to her dusting. Her stomach lurched. The world tilted slowly and rolled. Aeris dropped her dustcloth and ran for the bathroom door. She slapped on the light switch, and hurried to the toilet. She dry heaved twice, but her stomach refused to cooperate. The feeling passed. Shaken, Aeris leaned against the wall.
"You're working too hard," she thought. She managed to take eight steps down the hall before she turned around and ran back to the bathroom. She barely made it. When the heaving stopped, Aeris stood up and flushed the toilet. Her mouth tasted horrible but she was too dizzy to lean over the sink just yet. When she thought she was ready, she reached for the cold water tap. Her stomach lurched crazily. Aeris leaned over the toilet again, but there was nothing left to come up. It took a while to control her gag reflex.
The phone rang. Oh no, she thought. Aeris stumbled to the sink and splashed water over her lips. She sipped up a palm full of water and rinsed her mouth. The phone was still ringing. She ran to it feeling a little giddy.
"What took you so long to answer the phone?" complained Scarlet. "I was just about to come up and check on you."
Aeris was in no mood to deal with Scarlet today.
"I was running my bath," she said. "I didn't hear the phone until I turned the water off."
"I'm going out tonight," said Scarlet. "I'm bringing up two dresses. I want you to tell me which one looks best."
"Not now Scarlet," said Aeris. A wave a dizziness washed over her. "I'm taking a long luxurious oil bath and the water is just right. I want to get in it right away and soak while scented candles make me feel like I'm in wonderland."
"One of those kind huh?" Scarlet laughed. "Really Aeris, it'll just take a minute. I'll try them both on and you can tell me what you think."
"I can tell you what I think right now," said Aeris a little sharper than she intended. "Make up your own mind about your clothes."
There was a pause on the other end. Aeris wanted to kick herself.
"Are you feeling all right?" asked Scarlet.
Aeris forced herself to sound friendlier.
"I'm fine," she said. "It's just that this is my get-away-from-it-all fling and if I stop to look at your dresses now, it'll spoil the moment."
"Oh." Scarlet paused. "I understand. I like to burn candles and play soft music when I take an oil bath. I just wish I had someone to get out of the tub for."
Aeris laughed dutifully. "Who are you dating tonight? Rufus?"
Scarlet snorted. "I had to settle for a visiting professor. Oh well."
"I'm sure whatever you pick will be fine," said Aeris. "Trust your judgement."
Scarlet sighed. "Okay, I'll do that. I'll talk to you later. Okay?"
"Fine." Aeris wanted to slam the phone down and scream in frustration. "Enjoy yourself okay?"
"I intend to, my dear," said Scarlet with a note of mystery in her voice."I intend to."
Aeris hung up and hurried back to the bathroom. She brushed her teeth and rinsed her mouth more thoroughly this time. The dizziness was fading. Twenty minutes later, she felt as if she'd never thrown up at all. Just the faintest burning sensation in the back of her throat told her she had.
I drank the rest of the orange juice and Sephiroth didn't, she thought. It's been here a while. It must have been a little spoiled. She went on with her house keeping.
* * * * *
Sephiroth and Heidegger stood on a platform of an arena in the Junon Training Facility. Below them, Shinra troopers were practicing marching drills. Heidegger stood with his hands clasped behind him. Sephiroth, arms folded looked bored.
"What's so funny?" asked Sephiroth without looking around.
"I was just thinking of the day your son will be marching down there and how proud I'll be," said the older general. "I was trying to picture how he'd look."
Sephiroth thought back to the unfinished nursery and said nothing. He hadn't mentioned children to Aeris since before they'd been married. She'd adapted to their marriage well. As much as he looked forward to it, he didn't want to pressure her for a child. If she was going to conceive, he wanted it to be in the natural course of their lives.
Sephiroth gave Heidegger a questioning look.
"Is she pregnant or not?" asked the General. "I want to know if I have grandfather bragging rights yet."
"You ask me that question every other week," answered Sephiroth. "If there was any news to tell, I'd tell you."
Heidegger's face fell. "She's not pregnant yet? What are you waiting for?"
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "Father-"
Heidegger held up his hands. "Sorry."
He sighed and looked out over the troops again.
"Forgive the excitement of an old man," he said. "I haven't gotten over the fact you captured the Cetra at all. I guess I'm just dying to know what improvements this new addition to our bloodline will bring."
"We'll have children someday," answered Sephiroth, "But Aeris is a woman, not a baby factory and I'm not going to treat her like one."
Heidegger clapped him on the shoulder.
"Forgive me if that's the way I sounded. I didn't mean any harm."
"You don't have to keep apologizing," replied Sephiroth. "But you should remember our first child could be a girl instead of a boy."
"If so, she'll come from a fine line of military men," grinned Heidegger. "She'll be the best woman SOLDIER on this planet . . . second only to her father."
Sephiroth's beeper went off. He looked at it, then turned to his father.
"I'm needed elsewhere. We'll meet to discuss this review later?"
"Count on it!" Heidegger saluted him.
Sephiroth returned the salute then went on his way.
Heidegger waited till Sephiroth vanished into an elevator. He removed his cell phone from his belt and pressed Autodial. Hojo answered on the second ring.
"She's not pregnant yet,"our plans are still on hold.
"DAMN!" snapped Hojo. "What's he waiting for? We'd have better success in my lab!"
"You can't do that and you know it," warned Heidegger. "Be patient. Sooner or later we'll get what we want. It's just a matter of time."
"It had better be soon, or I'll have to drug them both and have them brought to my lab," grumbled Hojo. "With the right drugs, neither of them will remember their visit. At least we'll know for sure she's pregnant."
"Give them time."
"I'm not the only one who's impatient," said Hojo. "There's a thirty day limit on the Cetra starting today. If Sephiroth hasn't done his job by then, the President wants to know what I can do about it."
Heidegger sighed. "I'm just as anxious as the next man, but it seems we're moving a little too fast for nature here. What do you have in mind?"
Swelling with pride, Hojo explained. "The ventilation system in their apartment can be isolated from the rest of the building. All I have to do is feed sleeping gas into their bedroom. Once they're unconscious, I'll have them brought to my lab, where I'll start the Cetra's pregnancy through artificial means. The gas doesn't have any lingering effects. When they wake up again in their bedroom, they'll never know what happened to them. The Cetra will be pregnant, we'll have our baby and our plans can go forward."
"We can always count on you for an answer," said Heidegger. "Good work Hojo."
"Thank you general." Hojo swelled with pride as he hung up the phone.
* * * * *
"Another week?" Aeris' face fell. "I thought they were going to let you come home tonight."
"I was until a monster attacked a convoy outside the Nibelheim reactor," answered Sephiroth. "I'll be home soon. It's just a week. My father promises I'll have the next three weeks with you. I've got more than enough leave."
"All right," said Aeris. "Another week it is. I love you Sephiroth."
"I love you too," he said in a warm voice. "Goodbye Aeris."
"Bye Sephiroth," she replied.
Aeris hung up the phone. She turned to the bowl of orange slices on the table. As she reached out to take one, the world spiraled left then right. Aeris slid off the sofa on her knees. She held still trying to wait for the movement to stop. Bile rose in her throat. Panicked, she pushed herself to her feet and fled to the bathroom using the walls for support. She dropped to her knees and leaned over the toilet until she was dry heaving. She sat back gasping for breath. After a while she felt strong enough to stand. Aeris stood slowly. She made it to the sink where she rinsed her mouth and stood staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was pale.
"What's wrong with me? I was fine a few minutes ago."
She splashed cold water on her face and dried it with a towel. Feeling better, she walked out into the hall. The dizziness returned with a vengeance. The world went black.
She woke up twenty minutes later, lying in front of the bathroom door. Aeris raised her head blinking in confusion. The burning taste of bile in the back of her throat brought her memory back. She sat up slowly. The dizziness was gone. Aeris climbed to her feet and made her way into the den. A calender from the Junon Training Facility hung on a bulletin board.. Aeris pulled it down sat on the sofa. Turning back the pages to her wedding day, she counted down a sequence of days. When she finally reached the present, she hesitated.
She went back and counted again. After the fifth time, Aeris dropped the calendar on the floor and went into the living room. She stood before the glass wall looking down at the city without really seeing it. If her calculations were correct, she was running very late. Was it possible? Could she be pregnant? There was only one way to find out. Aeris went to the phone, and stopped. Who could she call? Hojo's face appeared in her mind.
"Uggggggh!" she said out loud and shivered. Not him. She'd rather jump off the balcony and attempt to fly before she'd let Hojo touch her. If Sector 7 hadn't been destroyed, she'd try to find Jessie and ask her advice. Jessie would have known someone she could trust.
Aeris sighed. Jessie, Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Marlene and Wedge were dead. There was no help for her there. She picked up the phone book. None of the names met anything to her. She looked under "Family" and found a low income family services clinic only four blocks away from Shinra Building. That was it. She'd take a pregnancy test there and if it was positive, she could let Sephiroth give his opinion of the Shinra doctors. She picked up a phone and made an appointment. The nurse said the doctor had an opening that very afternoon. Aeris took it.
The Hundred Gunner didn't join her in the elevator and no one paid any attention to her in the lobby below. Feeling like fate was once again on her side, Aeris left the building and started walking toward the clinic.
Tseng gave her a head start, then sent Reno and Rude to tail her.
Aeris found the clinic and went inside. She was worried the receptionist would recognize her and ask why she wasn't using a Shinra doctor, but the woman hardly looked at her. She acted as if she was too bored with her job to care who came in. After having Aeris fill out a few forms, she pointed out the waiting room and turned her attention back to a clothing catalog.
Aeris waited an hour before she was seen. After leaving specimens for the lab, she read a magazine until she was called in for an examination. Back in the waiting room, an attractive blonde woman in a dark suit was engrossed in a newspaper. There was something vaguely familiar about her clothing, but Aeris was too distracted to single out what it was. She picked up another magazine to read.
Elena tapped her miniature microphone twice to let Reno know things were still on hold. She kept her face shielded from Aeris.
When the nurse called her name again, Aeris was led to an elderly doctor with a kind face. He shook her hand as she sat down.
"What's the verdict?" she asked.
"The verdict?" He smiled at her. "The verdict is, you're pregnant my dear. By my calculations, you're eight weeks along. Congratulations."
"I'm going to have a baby?" Although Aeris had suspected it, it was still shocking to hear. "That means I got pregnant when my husband and I were on vacation."
"It certainly looks that way," said the doctor. "Are you going to come here, or do you have a doctor of your own?"
"I'll find someone," she said. Aeris stood up and took his hand. "Thank you so much. My husband is going to be thrilled!"
"What about you?" asked the doctor. "Are you happy too?"
"Very much so. I'm just sorry I didn't finish the nursery before now."
"Well, you've got a good reason to finish it now." The doctor smiled at her. "Goodbye young lady and again, congratulations."
"Thank you and goodbye."
When Aeris walked by, Elena guessed the results of the visit from the glow on her face.
"Looks, like our rabbit has good news," she said into her mike. "I'm giving her a head start before I follow."
"Affirmative," said Tseng. "You won't need to follow her beyond the front door. If she hasn't figured out who you are, there's no need to give her any clues."
"Roger that." Elena stood up.
Hojo swore and snatched up the receiver. People were always bothering him at the worst times.
"This is Dr. Wenski," said the voice on the other end. "Aeris Heidegger just left my office. I was told to report to you if a woman by that name came in for any reason."
Hojo's heart sped up. Under threat of revoking their licences or worse, Shinra had put out the word out to all the doctors in the city to report if Aeris came to them and why.
"Yes, yes what is it?" He gripped the phone so tight his knuckles cracked.
"She took a pregnancy test," replied Dr. Wenski. "She just left my office."
"YOU SAID THAT DAMN YOU!" shouted Hojo. "What were the results of her test?"
"S-She's eight weeks p-p-pregnant," stammered Dr. Wenski. "Tests show she's very healthy. She should breeze through her pregnancy with no problems if she gets regular check ups."
"Send me all her samples and any records you've made. At once!" Hojo slammed the phone down. His eyes were bright with glee. Aeris was finally pregnant! He picked up the phone and called the President.
"We've got her where we want her!" He could barely contain himself. "She's pregnant! Eight weeks pregnant!"
There was silence on the other end, then the President spoke.
"We'll go with on our original plan. See that her pregnancy is monitored from this point on. Don't go near her Hojo. Let her pick her own doctor. Things just got a little brighter today."
He hung up.
Hojo hung up and smiled to himself. Aeris was pregnant. He could hardly wait to get his hands on the baby. He could hardly wait to get his hands on her! If things worked out as he wished, there wouldn't be anything Sephiroth could do about it.
Go To Chapter 20
Return To FF7 Fanfic